Have You Checked Your Beneficiary Designation Lately?

I encourage my clients to review their estate planning documents on a regular basis, and an annual checkup seems like something that can be scheduled and easy to remember.

But what about things that aren’t part of the documents that I help to create?  What about your individual IRA?  or your life insurance policy?  or your company retirement plan? or your investment portfolio?

These types of plans are contractual in nature and the contract is between you and the insurance carrier or the plan administrator, or….whomever.

It is also important to make sure that these beneficiaries are up to date.  If the beneficiary is a minor child, do you have the person you want today as the trustee of these funds?  Have the children now become adults and you want them to have access to the funds immediately?  Have you created a trust and just never got around to changing the beneficiary of your insurance so that the funds will go into the trust to be distributed the way you wanted?

One of the biggest problems is selecting a beneficiary and just forgetting about it.  What happens if that person has died before you?  What happens if that person is no longer the one that you want to have access to the funds?  Maybe they got married to someone you hate.  Maybe they ran off to join a commune.  Maybe receiving the funds will make them ineligible (for just a little while) for medicaid benefits they are receiving now?  Maybe…. (fill in the blank).

I had a very personal example of this.  My mother had a life insurance policy that she got when she was working.  Her plan was that we could use her life insurance proceeds to pay for the funeral and then there would be a little left over for each of us (I’m the oldest of 7 children).  We all knew she had the life insurance and we all knew what she wanted us to do with the proceeds, but what we didn’t know was that she hadn’t really named a beneficiary at all.  I know she meant to have the beneficiary set to ‘all of my children equally’, but it never got recorded at the life insurance company.  The funeral home would have taken an assignment of the insurance proceeds, but that assignment had to be signed by all of the named beneficiaries and there were no named beneficiaries!

That meant that we needed to get a certified copy of her divorce papers, and all 7 of us had to sign affidavits that we were indeed her children before we could get access to the funds.  Of course we needed to have this done on the forms provided by the insurance company, which took time.  And somebody had to pay the funeral home right away.  So mom’s plan to use the insurance proceeds to pay for the funeral only ‘kinda’ worked.  One of us had to pay the funeral home and then each of the other 6 had to reimburse the one that paid when they got their one-seventh of the proceeds.

I have a great family and it worked out fine, but I’ve heard lots of examples of where one child has been ‘stuck’ with the entire funeral bill and the others refused to reimburse the sibling that paid the funeral home itself.

Please, take a few minutes and double check your beneficiary designations on all of those ‘contractual’ assets.

If you have any questions about this or any other legal subject, please feel free to give us a call at 757-234-4650 or visit our website at http://www.BeaversLaw.com.

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